Owner Of Newsweek Sidney Harman Dies

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Owner of Newsweek and creator of high-fidelity audio equipment Sidney Harman has died at 92. He founded Harman Kardon in 1953 to make one device that combined a radio tuner, an amplifier and speakers. Just last year, he acquired Newsweek magazine from the Washington Post. He was also the husband of former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat. He died last night of leukemia.


Sidney Harman, industrialist, philanthropist and academic, died last night here in Washington, D.C. Harman was also the husband of former California Congresswoman Jane Harman. He was 92 years old and had recently been diagnosed with leukemia.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this appreciation.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Sidney Harman made his fortune with the establishment of Harman Kardon, which produced high-fidelity stereo equipment for audiophiles. Before Harman Kardon, records sounded like this.


FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Dream, when you're feeling blue...

GRIGSBY BATES: Played on the cutting-edge technology Harman and his partner Bernard Kardon created, Sinatra sounded like this.


SINATRA: (Singing) Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars.

GRIGSBY BATES: Which raised the bar for listeners forever after and which made Sidney Harman a very rich man.

Harman's fortune allowed him to become a philanthropist. He funded civil rights projects in Virginia, the arts in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, an experimental university on Long Island and one of the first workplace, domestic violence prevention programs.

Last year, Harman announced he was buying Newsweek, the once grand newsweekly that was strangled in debt.

Jonathan Alter worked at Newsweek for 28 years and says he consulted with Harman before the industrialist purchased the magazine.

JONATHAN ALTER: Well, I understood from the beginning that Sidney Harman was buying Newsweek for the right reasons. He was interested in contributing to the national debate, and he saw it almost as a public trust.

GRIGSBY BATES: Harman announced he was prepared to lose money, up to $40 million a year, in order to get Newsweek to break even. Shortly after he bought the magazine, he saw an opportunity to strengthen his financial status by merging with The Daily Beast, the online news site run by Tina Brown.

Ken Auletta, media critic for The New Yorker, says this was Harman's thinking.

KEN AULETTA: The assumption was that they could merge her Daily Beast, which was owned by Barry Diller's company, with Newsweek, an online publication with a print publication, and maybe one plus one would equal four.

GRIGSBY BATES: For Harman, it was all about seeing things in different ways. His friend and colleague James Ellis, dean of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, says Harman was distressed that so much of our thinking was so rigid.

JAMES ELLIS: He believed that there was a connection. Life is all about interdisciplinary thought process.

GRIGSBY BATES: A couple of years ago, Harman became a professor at USC and lectured throughout the university from freshman leadership seminars to business school classes. He also founded USC's new Academy of Polymathic Studies. The academy seeks to build connections between disciplines, as Harman explains in a video about the school.


SIDNEY HARMAN: The world is changing. Everything in the digital universe, everything is connected to everything else.

GRIGSBY BATES: That willingness to embrace the new, Ellis says, made Harman extremely popular on campus.

ELLIS: When I brought Sidney in to talk, and the students were absolutely riveted to what he had to say, and at that time, he was a mere 90. So there was a 73-year gap between the teacher and the student.

GRIGSBY BATES: A gap that was bridged by Sidney Harman's ability to see, to explore, to discover right up until the end of his life.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.


SINATRA: (Singing) The fact's uncommonly clear. I got to find who's now the number one. And why my angel eyes...



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